NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley flew to the International Space Station (ISS) this May, and the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, together with the two astronauts, has finally returned to Earth.
SpaceX made history back in May with the launch of two American astronauts to the ISS. The May 30th lift-off marked a return of U.S. spacecraft capabilities to U.S. soil for the first time since the space shuttle program closed. But the expedition, named Demo-2, has now come to an end as NASA astronauts Doug Hurley, 53, and Bob Behnken, 50, have safely landed back on Earth this weekend.
SpaceX’s Demo-2 mission tested the abilities of its Crew Dragon capsule to safely transport humans into orbit, but before the spacecraft is cleared for use by NASA, the company had one more crucial test flight to carry out – bringing the astronauts back.
Speaking after the expedition’s safe ending, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said: “I think my entire adrenaline just dumped. These are difficult times, there’s not that much good news… No matter where you are on planet Earth, this is a good thing. And I hope it brightens your day.”
When did the Astronauts Return to Earth?
NASA revealed earlier this month that the Crew Dragon spacecraft would leave the ISS on Saturday, August 1st, ET. The landing back on soil was then targeted for an August 2nd splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico.
Still, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said on Friday that the actual return date would be set according to the weather in the landing zone. Eventually, the Dragon capsule landed in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Pensacola, Florida, on Sunday, August 2nd, at around 7.48 p.m. BST (2.48 p.m. EDT).
The landing marked the first time a private-built American spacecraft returned to Earth from the space station. After the splashdown, the two astronauts were successfully recovered by SpaceX and finally reunited with their families.
Steve Stich, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, said: “It really is a great day; I’m almost speechless as to how well things went today with the deorbit, entry, landing, and recovery of Bob and Doug. Coming into today, we had three flight objectives: to execute the deorbit and entry of the Dragon capsule, to demonstrate that we could successfully recover that capsule and that we could also bring back cargo from space. I think we demonstrated all three of those things today. It was just an incredible day.”
On July 22nd, the astronauts carried out a few tests on the capsule. They opened and closed the spacecraft’s hatches, operated its waste system, and moved cargo into it.
NASA said: “As part of the demonstration, Space Station commander Chris Cassidy and Russian cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin joined the duo inside the spacecraft to test how a sleeping configuration would work with four people. Behnken and Hurley will continue to test Crew Dragon’s systems and perform science and maintenance onboard station until their return to Earth.”